Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

In this fundamental condition time has wrought a change. Divisive agencies are now in operation. Scattered over an extended continent, with a local ministry and local interests, the tendency of our Churches is to diversity, to separation. Unconsciously, it may be, but fatally, we are growing apart. Each conference is assuming a type of its own-of thought, of style, of worship; the centrifugal is overmastering the centripetal force, insomuch that our people are being molded more by local influences than by the central ideas and forces of the denomination. That the change is silent, and almost imperceptible, does not disprove its existence and operation; all the dominant forces of nature operate in silence. But what is wrought out in the silent laboratory of history will, in due time, become manifest on the stage of events, in fierce contests and revolutions which may rend the Church in fragments.

To arrest this localizing and separating tendency in the Church no agency may be entirely adequate; and yet it cannot be doubted that a wider distribution of our ministry would exert a most beneficial influence in that direction. Many of our disaffections, of our secessions, arise from local causes, which would be modified, if not arrested, in their operation by the introduction of new ininisterial talent into the field. The Church, in 1844, was cleft asunder because different ideas and styles of thought dominated in the two sections. If the preachers had been freely and largely interchanged, transferring those from the North into the South, and vice versa, who believes the catastrophe of that year conld have occurred? The intermingling of men would have moderated and given juster views to all sides, and would have delayed, if not entirely prevented, the terrible struggle through which we as a nation have passed.

In the future progress of the Church new questions await us which will agitate deeply and threaten the unity of the body. To forestall, and, so far as possible, prevent, such a result, every precaution should be taken. Local efforts should be overshadowed by the grand enterprises of the Church at large, and the preachers, by circulating through the organization, should be deprived of the power to perpetrate local evil. In accordance with the spirit of our economy they should be ministers of the whole Church, not of a section, and should be enlisted

1

a

to promote the causes approved by the denomination, rather than those of a locality.

3. The proper development of the magnificent field assigned us by Providence requires a wide distribution, a frequent interchange of ministerial talent. The field is large, extending from ocean to ocean, and from the frozen North to the tepid waters of the Gulf, as well as to the nations beyond, and affords such a variety of condition, of culture, of nationality, as to demand very diverse gifts for its proper culture and development. In the center, the unoccupied part of the continent, the incoming tide of immigrants calls for a corps of enterprising preachers capable of toil, of exposure, in following close upon the pioneer; in the South, a field blasted and blackened by the war storm, and presenting to us a heterogeneous people struggling amid conflicting passions to rise to a better condition, a band of wise and conrageous men is required; while, in the older and more staid East, enjoying a ineasure of accumulated wealth, a higher culture, are calls for more able pulpit men. In each of these sections again are met other varieties of people, of ideas, of tastes, of usages to meet which requires specific gifts and powers; here a builder, there a preacher, a controversialist, a revivalist, an educator, or a peacemaker, as the case

may be.

With talent adequate to meet all demands, it often happens that that talent is unequally distributed. The comparatively sterile field may have been blessed with a large number of laborers, while the rich and promising one, opening in another direction, suffers for want of them. In this way the whole work, in consequence of the improper arrangement of our men, is damaged. To remedy the evil, we do not so much require new talent, as the re-adjustment of what we already possess. Detail from the more favored sections a body of earnest workers, of born reapers, to the destitute fields, and they will, doubtless, come again with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them. The good blood should not all be allowed to flush a single part of the body ecclesiastic, thus engendering fever and feebleness ; a portion of it drawn to remote sections will reduce the inflammation, and, by quickening the general circulation, will promote the health and vigor of the entire system.

The free circulation of our ministerial talent above recom

a

mended, it has been supposed by some, would militate against the less favored sections; a conclusion evidently wide of the truth, as this plan, by cutting the ministry loose from special centers, and placing them in a position to be sent to serve the localities in most need, would afford them a far better chance to live than they now enjoy. The first step toward securing ministerial talent is to dislodge it from its old positions. Thus much is done by our plan, as well as to direct it in the way

to the open fields. Moreover, men would cheerfully serve less desirable sections for a period if they knew beforehand that they were not to be permanently attached to them, or that their standing in the Church was not to be affected by such service. Localities which taboo men are disliked. No one would care to be pinned down, like a serf of the soil, at Spitzbergen ; but once free to roam the continent or the world, he would find it quite agreeable to make a voyage northward, and to spend some portion of the hot season in the colder latitudes. Many preachers would not only consent, but would find it profitable to spend a time in other conferences, provided they could do so without being disinherited by the family in which they were born, and having their funeral sermons preached before they were under the turf; or if they could return again without confessing their errors and running the gauntlet of a · fierce opposition.

4. But this circulatory system would prove no less favorable to the development of the men than of the work. Individuals who spend lite about the homestead ordinarily, like grass in old fields, remain narrow and only partially developed; while those emigrating to new sections imbibe a fresh inspiration, and take on a higher vigor. The change, the transference to a new soil, to another climate, proves a most valuable school. Travel is an essential part of the best education. With books and schools a man may remain shriveled and contracted in his views, and be quite unable to deliver a sound judgment on broad questions; while a wider view, a freer circulation through the great world, would broaden and develop him, and make of him quite another and higher man. Valuable as our early surroundings may be, the accomplished man must pass beyond them, must thrust out his roots into other soils, must feel the breath of other climates, the touch of other peoples, of other customs; must cross other channels of thought, of experience, of enterprise, in order to supply his own deficiencies. In a word, if he would be a full man, a trained man; if he would possess a rounded, symmetrical life, he must secure the advantages of travel. Pent up in his narrow inclosure, he necessarily renains ignorant of much and of all those kinds of knowledge which come to us only at first hand. The gorgeous city can never be known by a few sample bricks, nor this magnificent world appreciated through other men's eyes and ears.

In this respect Methodist preachers enjoy eminent advantages. While others pass transiently over sections of the country, obtaining a bird's-eye view of the surroundings, sipping a little from the great store, they are allowed by our system to spend two or three years in a place, the more carefully to study all objects of interest. It may be well to have a home in a particular conference; but why should not a Methodist preacher, from this center, pass out into the regions beyond, into the Middle States, into the Mississippi Valley, across the Rocky Mountains, upon the Pacific coast, around by the Sandwich Islands and Mexico—no matter how far provided only he come around in time to die? Such a peregrination, extending through several years, touching a variety of the sources of knowledge, would prove an education superior to that of any university. It would bring him in contact with men and things; it would stimulate him to better endeavors; it would build him out on all sides.

While transfers would prove a means of education, they would at the same time afford new opportunities and incitements for men to rise. The prophet would pass out from home, where he could not do many mighty works, since the people did not believe. They knew him as a child, as a beginner, in his attempts, his failures, in that small charge, and can never learn to think of him as capable of sustaining any higher relations. Restrained and repressed, he may yet possess all the elements of the higher success which, transferred to a new district or conference, to more favorable conditions, affording a fairer probation, would carry him above many of those hitherto deemed his superiors.

5. Such an arrangement would prove a not inconsiderable advantage by allowing us to confine our conferences to still narrower limits. If the members of a conference are to remain permanently within its bounds, it should be large, in order to afford an ample field for the circulation of the men, however inconvenient it might be to entertain such a body in its annual gatherings; but, on the other hand, if men are allowed to slide over those bounds freely, it does not matter so much where the lines are traced.

The only serious objection to this course seems to be the damage which might ensue to the conference animus, the esprit de corps. This objection is capable of a twofold answer. The conference spirit might be merged in the more catholic Church spirit, or in case this sympathy between smaller bodies of men be deemed essential, so large a part of the members would remain for a long period as would be able to maintain it. If the plan were carried out, a majority would probably remain, and even many of the new men would continue so long that they would imbibe the spirit of the body and essentially aid in maintaining its status.

But, admitting the advantages of a wider circulation of our preachers, the question recurs, How shall the localizing evil be corrected ? “The preachers are opposed to transfers, and in favor of maintaining the conferences as a sort of close corpoations." They are opposed to irregular transfers—to bargains between particular men and Churches—to such arrangements as give one party an advantage over another ; but they are not understood to object to exchanges where the advantages will prove to be mutual.

With the war against unjust and irregular transfers, some plan is needed by which they can be affected with greater facility. The preachers should pass from one conference to another as easily as now from one district to another. New men should come full-fledged, eligible to all positions in the body.

Is such a plan feasible? With Congregationalism there might be a difficulty ; but, happily, our economy affords the means of compassing the end. It was constructed for this very purpose, and, if faithfully worked, will distribute to appropriate fields the talent of the body. Bishops and presiding elders may work beyond as well as within particular conference lines. The outline of our plan for this would be, briefly, something like the following:

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »